Caring for the land is a long-term goal for family

SoilConserve-Suderman_Dean.jpg
SoilConserve-Suderman_Dean.jpg

Dean Suderman and wife Amy and their kids enjoy some bonding time in the tractor. Conservation has been almost as big a part of the Suderman heritage as the family farm itself.

In an age of instant gratification, Dean and Amy Suder?man farm south of Hillsboro with an eye to long-term benefits.

That?s one reason Dean has been committed to soil conversation, and why his commitment over the years has earned him one of the two Banker Awards issued this year by the Marion County Conservation District.

?It?s kind of a long-term goal,? Suderman said of his soil-conservation efforts. ?You want to get your land and your soil in better condition than when you got it, and improve it for the next generation.?

Suderman credits his interest in conservation to growing up helping his father, Orville.

?I grew up working with terraces for as long as I can remember,? said the younger Suder?man. ?I helped build a lot of them years ago already. We?ve been building our own for a number of years now.?

The land Suder?man farms today is enhanced with 32,188 feet of terraces?most of which he and his father constructed?plus 23.83 acres of waterways and 20.5 acres of grass in the Conservation Reserve Program.

Though the soil-saving structures have made a significant difference in the Suderman operation over the years, he said the relatively recent switch to no-till farming practices has been every bit as important.

?In the past 10 to 15 years, our switch to no-till has been a bigger improvement over just the terrace structures and the waterways,? he said. ?It looks to me to be the biggest improvement, as far as conservation goes.?

But the switch to no-till was tentative at first.

?We didn?t jump in 100 percent right away,? Suderman said. ?We tried a few small fields for several years and we kind of gradually increased it. Once we kind of got our feet wet in it, we could tell it was going to be the way to go.

?We were at a point where otherwise we were going to have to start replacing quite a bit of our tillage machinery,? he added. ?It takes a lot of time and capital to keep that part of it up.?

One of the things Suderman was told?and has found to be true?is that seeing results from no-till farming takes a bit of patience. But he is now seeing the results he was told about?the moisture savings from keeping the residue all on top of the ground and the improved soil structure.

?A lot of it was education, from going to other events and classes where they would talk about it,? Suderman said of his learning curve. ?To start with, you just have to sort of believe what they say. It probably takes four to five years before you really start seeing some of the results.?

Suderman deepened his commitment to soil conservation more than most farmers when he agreed to serve six years on the conservation district board.

?I had a neighbor of mine who had been on there, and when his term was up he kind of asked me about it,? Suderman said. ?Since I was kind of familiar with some of that work, it appealed to me to be involved on that level. I served two terms on that board and thought that was a really good experience.

?You kind of see the other side of it, as far as implementing the requirements?to see what all it takes to get people into compliance.?

His time on the board has persuaded Suderman that Marion County farmers are by and large committed to soil conservation practices?even though the government requires them on ground classified as ?highly erodible? if a producer wants to participate in the farm program.

?There could be some improvement yet,? Suderman said. ?Some of the ground that?s not classified as highly erodible still needs some attention.

?We?ve been building terraces and making improvements in places where it?s not necessarily required?because we could see the need,? he said. ?Yeah, there are other places (in the county) that could sure use some improvement.?

Suderman said he is still making non-required improvements on the land he farms.

?Even this past fall we were still building a few terraces,? he said. ?There?s some ground that has eroded over the years, and it finally takes that to hold the runoff and prevent it from getting worse.

?We?d start kind of at the top of the hill, put in a few terraces and then over a number of years we?ll see whether that?s sufficient or whether we need to add another one or two.

?We have the flexibility to do that on the ground, where it isn?t required.?

Suderman said he has appreciated the assistance he?s received from National Resources Conservation Service personnel.

?They?ve been really good to work with,? he said. ?When they know you?re building your own (terraces), they can say, ?Well, this may not drain quite right, but we know that since you have your own equipment, that if you see a pond out there you?re going to go fix it.?

?So they?ve been really good to work with. They?ll even help you lay it out so that it farms better, not just so the water runs off the field the right way. Maybe they?ll help you straighten out some terraces so they?re not so crooked, or help them lay a little more parallel.?

Even setting aside the government?s participation requirements for highly erodible soil, Suderman is convinced implementing soil-conservation practices makes good economic sense.

?Of course, you kind of have to look at it long term?you?re saving your soil,? he said. ?I think with the no-till side of it, you?re improving your soil structure, and over a number of years it should improve its productivity, aside from not having it wash away on you.?

Winning a Banker Award wasn?t part of Suderman?s motivation, but he does appreciate the recognition.

?It kind of affirms what you?ve been doing, to see a little recognition for what you?ve been working at.?

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